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Your child's best friend has developed a rash. Three classmates were sent home with the flu. It seems that everywhere you take your child, people are coughing and sneezing. When should you be concerned? What can you do?

This guide to common illnesses in children fills you in on which are and are not contagious. It also provides tips for how to keep your child healthy or get him on the road to recovery.

Cold and Flu: Contagious

No wonder it's called the common cold -- the average preschool and elementary child suffers between six and 10 colds per year. Cold symptoms -- including sore throat, runny nose, cough, sneezing, and fatigue -- can last for a few days to two weeks.

How it spreads. Cold viruses reach kids via droplets in the air when a sick person coughs or sneezes. Kids also pick up colds through direct contact with sniffly friends or by touching germy surfaces -- like toys or classroom desks -- and then touching their face, especially their mouth or eyes.

Prevention. Getting your child a yearly flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu. You can also reduce her risk of cold or flu by teaching her to wash her hands frequently with soap and warm water. Children should also learn to avoid close contact and sharing food and utensils with other people. They also need to avoid putting their hands and other non-food items in their mouth.

Treatment. While there's no cure for a cold, you can make your child more comfortable when she has one. Give her acetaminophen for pain and plenty of fluids. Salt water gargles can ease a sore throat and steam helps clear congestion. If cold symptoms are accompanied by a high fever, severe muscle aches, and exhaustion, your child may have the flu. Talk to her doctor about other ways to ease symptoms.

Hand, Foot, Mouth Disease: Contagious

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a common viral illness that most often affects babies and children under age 5. Symptoms include fever, mouth sores, and skin rash.

How it spreads. Viruses that cause hand, foot, and mouth disease are passed in saliva, nasal mucus, fecal matter, and fluid from mouth blisters of infected people. Your child can also catch it by touching anything touched by a person who has it.

Prevention. Frequent hand washing helps prevent the spread of hand, foot, and mouth disease. Your child should also avoid close contact or sharing food or utensils with other kids. If an infected child has been to your house, wash toys and household surfaces that may harbor the germs. Then disinfect them, using 1 tablespoon of bleach to 4 cups of water.

Treatment. There is no specific treatment for hand, foot, and mouth disease. Since it's caused by a virus, antibiotics aren't called for. But there are things you can do to help ease your child's symptoms. Give acetaminophen for pain and fever. Your doctor may recommend using analgesic mouthwashes and sprays to numb painful mouth sores. If you are concerned about your child's symptoms, call the doctor.

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